Last weekend’s Special Congress in Dublin might have been an occasion to publicize the theme of change within the association. However, it turned out to be yet another smug triumph for the arch-conservatives.
And no, it wasn’t to do with the previously stated refusal to open up Croke Park for the European soccer championships in 2008 — with a gun put to the GAA’s head by the Irish government, that decision was understandable — it was more the demonstrations of sheer intransigence in the face of a possible new order.
Croke Park will eventually open its doors to both rugby and soccer — not because of some major shift in the mindset of the association’s members, but when financial reality begins to dawn on the unenlightened. A stadium with a capacity of more than 70,000 spectators that is empty for more than six months a year will never pay for itself.
But when Peter Quinn, the chairman of the Strategic Review Committee whose findings have advocated a new-look GAA for the 21st century, addressed congress with his recommendations, almost every motion was thrown out.
If the more controversial suggestion that Dublin be split into two county teams was dropped earlier in the year, the SRC document largely remains a blueprint for badly needed reforms. However, the motion that next year’s football league be played on an experimental basis was rejected. So was a proposal that substitutes be introduced on a rolling interchange basis similar to the International Rules series. Out went a motion that playing rules be changed every three years, so the next rule-changing Congress will be held in 2010.
Moreover, there was a refusal to accept that players under the age of 16 should not be allowed to take part in intercounty competition. A further no to the proposed redesignation of the director general as chief executive and a rejection of the motion that certain county officers be appointed on the basis of their skill and suitability for the job rather than elected.
So, the nos had it almost every twist and turn, and if a host of lost motions didn’t frustrate Quinn and his reforming supporters to distraction, one issue had the Fermanagh businessman in a lather. In the interests of efficiency, the SRC had placed a major emphasis on the needed change within the GAA’s management committee whereby the association’s president would be allowed to have four of his own nominees on the highly influential committee.
Quinn argued that it was now essential for the administration of such a large organization to include specialist talent on the management committee even if the people were chosen from outside the GAA. But that too failed to attract support from two-thirds of the delegates.
“As a major organization we should be applying modern governance procedures,” Quinn said. “So this was a big disappointment. I’d have swapped 14 or 15 of the other motions which were passed for that one. My fear is that as a major commercial entity, as well as a sporting and cultural organization, we’ll have difficulty running the GAA.”
Quinn was joined in proposing several of the motions by former president Joe McDonagh, Leinster chairman Nicky Brennan and Munster chairman Christy Cooney, but it was obvious that a majority of delegates were in no mood to upset the status quo. Asked if his dealings with congress was more difficult than some of his work on the Drumcree controversy as part of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, Quinn hesitated and said: “I’d probably have to toss a coin. Congress doesn’t believe it needs reform, but I think it does. We have the best part of euro 3 billion invested in various facilities and that requires a very effective management system.”
Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Gaelic Players Association, Dessie Farrell, also attacked the SRC for failing to address player issues, although there were some motions passed that will affect players, such as the increase of intercounty panels from 24 to 30 and the appointment of a fourth official to monitor all substitutions. It was also agreed to introduce a closed season between November and December with not even challenge games allowed in that period, while players who feign injury will receive a caution.